Exactly three weeks before the city tournament, the Fenway High girls’ basketball team looked like it was in fine form to defend its championship.
Playing without freshman point guard Takora McIntyre, who averages about a dozen points per game, the Panthers defeated Latin Academy, 67-28, on Wednesday night at the Shelburne Community Center.
But defending their Division 4 state title after losing two seniors from last year’s team will be a much more difficult task. While the Panthers (11-2) have rolled the competition in the city league this season, they have split four games against nonleague opponents.
The Panthers beat Lake Region (Maine), 53-33, on Jan. 12 and Notre Dame (Lawrence), 58-27. Their only two loses came to top-ranked Reading, 49-38, on Dec. 30 and to East Side High (N.J.), 56-38, last Saturday.
“Sometimes we do worry because the season is like practice to us because we don’t face that much competition, but when we get to the states we panic a little bit because we know the other teams are just like us,” said junior guard Cadieja Mathews, who scored 13 points for Fenway (11-2). “We basically struggle because we’re playing new competition.”
Mathews said the Panthers didn’t work well as a team against East Side and will try to improve against No. 15 Fontbonne on Friday.
“All we need to do is just work hard as a team,” she said, “just keep our head, don’t get into any arguments with anybody, yell at one another, just try to keep each other up, work hard as a team, run our plays, score, and get back on defense.”
None of those were problems on Wednesday against Latin Academy.
Senior guard Tajanay Veiga-Lee, who scored a game-high 23 points to go with nine assists and four steals, led the Panthers as they took a 12-0 lead.
Latin Academy finally got on the board with 44 seconds left in the opening quarter thanks to an uncontested layup by freshman forward Catherine Coppinger.
But Veiga-Lee quickly hit a 3-pointer at the other end to put her squad up, 15-2, which kicked off an 18-0 run. That spurt was ended by freshman forward Alex Wilson’s layup with 2:49 left in the half.
But once again Veiga-Lee responded with a 3-pointer that put her team up, 33-4.
Latin Academy scored 6 more points in the half — half of which came on junior center Catherine Loney’s 3-point play — before going into the locker room down, 36-10.
Latin Academy coach Emily Hunter-Coleman said she’s not worried that the loss demoralized her team.
“I prep my girls prior to going into certain games,” she said. “My girls, that doesn’t faze them, because I let them know ahead of time. I prep them, I let them know what games, such as CASH, that we’re not going to shoot threes, we’re going to hold the ball a little longer, and then there are games we’re going to have to hustle every play.
“They’ll be ready eventually. [Fenway] is a well-seasoned team, my girls are young so we’re going to go through the trenches, but eventually these are the types of games that are going to teach us how to get better. We’re going to go back and look at some game film and see what we did and try to rectify it.”
The Dragons (8-4) need to split upcoming games against Madison Park and South Boston to have a shot at making the city tournament, according to Hunter-Coleman.
“We’re fighting for that,” she said. “We have a tough game against Madison and a tough game against Southie. Not to say we have everything else in the bag, but those are the two games we have to really win to seal it.
“So, we’re looking forward to it.”
Fenway coach John Rice said his team will looked to improve every aspect of its game regardless of the opponents' skill level.
“Our schedule, it is what it is, so we do things according to our opponents to help us get better,” he said. “We won’t press; we’ll just walk the ball up and work on our offense so we can improve that way. I think our girls play year-round, they play AAU basketball, they are dedicated basketball players. So they get tested time and time again.
“It’s my job to make sure they are prepared properly.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.